Ontarians are reacting to the release of the province's 2023 budget — billed as its biggest ever — with many feeling that it doesn't put enough resources on pressing issues that impact individuals, like education, affordable housing and food inflation.
The tabled $204.7-billion budget is investing greatly into things like infrastructure and development, with $71 billion earmarked for transit and $28 billion on highways for the next decade.
Peter Graefe is an associate professor of political science at McMaster University. He says the budget benefits from being put out during a time when the rate of inflation is high. That way, the government can say they’re putting more money into things. However, if it’s lower than the rate of inflation, it’s actually cutting corners.
“It takes a certain degree of sophistication to figure out what’s being cut lightly at the margins and what’s keeping pace with inflation or reflecting new investment,” he tells Yahoo News Canada.
In Ontario's 2023 budget, the government's fiscal plan looks to allocate a combined $240.1 billion in the health sector across its interim 2022-23, 2023-24 and 2024-25. Compared to its 2022 budget, its up 3.89 per cent (compared to $231.1 billion) across those same three years.
For the education section, the government is allocating $103.1 billion versus $101.7 billion, respectively, representing a 1.47 per cent increase.
Both are lower than the current rate of inflation, which stands at 5.2 per cent in February 2023.
Graefe says he’s not surprised there’s little emphasis on education, as the Conservative government feels that area had done well under previous governments and can afford to have less money spent there. However, there is an emphasis on putting more funding towards training centres, in an effort to push skilled trades.
In terms of health care, Graefe says the emphasis seems to be on underspending in the public system in order to put more focus on private clinics and surgeries.
When it comes to the average person hard-hit by inflation, or those who face other daily challenges and rely on benefits, there isn’t much there.
“Is there much here for people on social assistance, or Ontario disabilities or who were badly hit by the pandemic and were already at low levels before that? No,” he says. “That plan to keep those benefits increasing by the rate of inflation has been locked in so there’s nothing there.”
Many people took to social media to criticize the government’s budget. Some were alarmed that it did nothing to very little to address imminent issues surrounding cost of living.
— Cheri DiNovo (@CheriDiNovo) March 23, 2023
@fordnation if you continue on this path -there won't be any Ontario left for generations to come! Your #BuildOntario budget is not helping us face climate disasters, food & water shortages that will ensue.
Read the @IPCC2023 reports and fund accordingly for sustainability! https://t.co/4oS6Z2jnYb
— DiMcI (@PeaceForNature) March 23, 2023
Ontario's budget is cutting funding to cities and affordable housing at a time when the need has never been higher. #onpoli
— Jessica Bell (@JessicaBellTO) March 23, 2023
Yeah, zip on climate change mitigation. Again.😡🖕🏼
— Rod 🌈🖖🏼 (@CanadaRod) March 23, 2023
To quite transparent, @fatimabsyed and I are not writing a standalone story about Ontario's 2023 budget because there just... isn't enough that's new there on the environmental front.
We'd basically be writing the same story we did last year: https://t.co/akWJ7d48HW
— Emma McIntosh (@EmmaMci) March 23, 2023
ETFO says Ontario budget means more cuts to public education. The govt had the opportunity to strengthen public education through this year’s budget, but instead they are forcing school boards to make cuts to services, which means cuts to student supports. #onpoli #onted pic.twitter.com/ugixqjkCLx
— Elementary Educators (@ETFOeducators) March 23, 2023
Also, the Ontario budget is a pile of bollocks. But then, what did we expect from DoFo but business handouts and below inflation increases in health and education spending. #OnPoli
— Cap’n Tightpants 🇨🇦🏴🏳️🌈 (He/Him) (@capntightpants) March 23, 2023
Others felt that Ford and his government were putting corporations first.
Doug Ford's new budget for #Ontario is definitively Conservative: He taxes the crap out of common people, cuts their services & transfers their dollars to multinational corporations through tax cuts.
It's horrific. 😒 #OnPoli
— DerekZoolander85 (@dzoolander85) March 23, 2023
Am I reading correctly that program spending in the Ontario budget is only going up by 0.7%? If so, compared to inflation that's huge drop -- especially at a time of record government revenues because of inflation. Going to hurt a lot of working class people in a big way.
— Craig Saunders (@CraigSaunders) March 23, 2023
The budget will put an end to the Time-Limited Paid COVID-19 Leave, a program intended to support people who needed to take time off work to isolate or get vaccinated.
It reasons that since Ontario achieved one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, the program will expire on March 31. Some were left wondering what's being done for those still recovering from being hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Is anyone surprised? Anyone? I still can not get over the fact people chose this again after the fiasco during covid and him withholding $5Billion from healthcare
— GlassByDeanna (she/her)@glassbydeanna (@glassbydeanna) March 24, 2023
The big news for Toronto is the lack of news. No new bailouts from Queen’s Park. We’ll see if the feds budget offers anything as Toronto grapples with combined $1.5 billion “COVID hangover” budget hole from last year & this year, plus a projected gap of up to $1.7 billion for ’24
— Matt Elliott (@GraphicMatt) March 23, 2023
Some were critical about the lack of investment in public transit systems.
Phil Pothen with the environmental advocacy organization Environmental Defence, in an online statement noted that investing into highways is "nothing more than public subsidies for car-dependent sprawl" and will only add to motor vehicle traffic, and in turn, greenhouse gas emissions, far worse.
Ontario doesn’t bail us out, so the hole in Ottawa’s transit budget remains.
Ontario spending 70 billion on public transit projects over the next 10 years while municipal transit agencies beg for operating support is certainly a choice. https://t.co/mB4vEvKofH
— Derrick (@DerrickSimpson_) March 24, 2023
Overall, Graefe says the budget is a reflection of a Conservative government, and one that appears to benefit from inflation.
“Ultimately inflation makes their job a lot easier because they’re in a period where revenues are going up substantially for the government,” he says.
“But you can increase money or hold money constant for a whole series of services and not face the argument that you’re cutting, even if in the real sense you are, if you’re not increasing budget to reflect increased level of prices in the economy.”